The 70th World Health Assembly (WHA), the main decision-making body of the World Health Organisation (WHO), kicked off at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva on Monday. As representatives of 194 member states gather at its annual meeting in Geneva, China’s Dr Margaret Chan gave her last address as Director-General of the WHO, with her tenure coming to an end. A new WHO Director-General will also be elected as incumbent head Margaret Chan’s mandate comes to an end. Calling on the assembly to make “reducing inequalities” a guiding ethical principle, Chan said that “WHO stands for fairness,” adding that countries should also work to improve collection of health data and make health strategies more accountable. Chan stressed the importance of continued innovation, noting that “meeting the ambitious targets in the Sustainable Development Goals depends on innovation.” Chan said that despite criticism of the UN health agency in recent years – most notably in its fumbled response to the 2014 Ebola disaster in West Africa – the agency remains relevant. Chan said she was “personally accountable” for the agency’s failures during the outbreak. “Our joint work at the global level aims for the central objective of promoting health through the life course, as enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals adopted at the very highest political level in 2015,” said WHA’s newly-elected President Veronika Skvortsova. “The achievement of this central objective necessitates the creation of an integrated health-preserving environment that amalgamates all national, regional and global mechanisms in the public, intersectoral and official spheres, professional medical bodies, patients’ associations and the business community,” Xinhua quoted her as saying. This year’s assembly will determine policies on a range of health issues, including medicines and health products, non-communicable diseases, health emergencies, as well as maternal, new-born, child and adolescent health.

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